An Interlude…

February 7, 2013

I’ve been working down in Southern California this week; pouring At Craft – Los Angeles and Mastro’s Steakhouse in Costa Mesa under the aegis of the Wine Artisans of Santa Lucia Highlands  (a collection of wineries that produce wine from this vaunted appellation and get together to market their wines). The response to the wines…2010 La Rochelle Rosella’s Vineyard Chardonnay, 2010 La Rochelle Soberanes Vineyard Pinot Noir, etc. was extremely good.

The rest of the week I worked with the salesteam from our broker R&R Wine Marketing, pouring wine for buyers in Orange County and San Diego. There are a number of new accounts who will be adding Steven Kent Winery and La Rochelle wines to their programs…very good week (more to come later on this).

Thursday night I had a great dinner at the Twisted Vine Wine Bar in downtown Fullerton (thanks Chris, Scott, Wes, and Brett for the great hospitality!). Fullerton is a college town and the downtown area reminds me a bit of State Street in Santa Barbara; a lot of cool bars and Twisted Vine foodrestaurants and a young vibe that college towns give off in waves. Twisted Vine is like this too. Great flights of microbrews, value-oriented reds and whites, and a special high-end Cab flight from PerryMoore (a Napa Cab brand owned by a new friend and R&R compatriot, Mickey Moore). The food was great too…Manchego meatballs in an amazing broth and potato and chorizo empanadas…really good!

The best part of the night, though, was totally unexpected. There is a fair amount of free parking in small garages downtown. Free parking – great; similar-looking buildings – not so grand.

As I was looking for my rental car in the garage I thought I parked in, I passed a group of about 10 teenagers hanging out. As I looked down a number of rows, pushing my car remote like a madman, I heard one kid playing a harmonica. He saw me too. Next thing I hear…

“There’s a white man wearing a suit {harmonica interlude}. Looking for his car…{harmonica interlude}. He can’t find it…{harmonica interlude}.

I had to chuckle. Eventually, I did find the car. It was in the building next door…I found it by sheer dumb luck.

Just another week in the wine life. Moments of exasperation, moments of success and the lack of it, and moments where the directionally challenged get called out by a harmonica-playing hipster. Wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Getting to the Bottom…

February 3, 2013

You’d think that when you nuture a wine from the grape to the bottle, tasting it from its youth, tracking each change, the effect of the new barrel on fruit, the growth of tannin, and the blossoming of balance and complexity..that each one would be as singular and unforgettable as one of your children.

Things don’t always work that way. Especially when you are tasting that wine blind with a bunch of really big wines.

I was pouring the 09 Lineage over the course of a few days last week  in Southern California, and I had the rare opportunity to have the wine newly opened three days in a row…and to taste the wine as it opened up over a multi-hour tasting. Then at the end of the week, I tasted the wine again, along with The Premier Cabernet 2009 in a flight of 8 very high-end wines from Napa.

The wine I thought was Lineage, was in fact The Premier; and the Premier ended up being a different wine, altogether.

The point is, I guess, that each time I taste wine…my own wine most assuredly, it is a new experience. No matter how well I think I know the wine, it has something special in reserve to show me, some new layer that I haven’t yet fathomed. This is one of the greatest things about wine: the truly great ones are bottomless…there is no getting everything, no understanding all that it has to offer; each tiime you taste it, there is a new level of complexity and a new level of potential beauty there.

Here’s hoping that the mystery never ends.

Expert Evaluation

February 1, 2013

Yesterday, our marketing company, Balzac Communications, set up a blind tasting of three flights of wines (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet/Bordeaux blends) that included ours and some of the best from Napa and Sonoma. The six participants, all Master Sommeliers, are some of the most accomplished and knowledgeable wine professionals and educators in the world.

The experience was wonderful for a bunch of reasons: I got to see how these really smart and passionate wine lovers approached the evaluation of these very different wines, how they each teased out personal priorities from those wines, and how they went about communicating their own very personal experience with the wines in a language that was helpful to us.

I came to this setting with very specific purposes in mind. In our own minds we are all first string players. The rest of the world (whichever world we happen to be participating in at any given moment) rarely sees us in the same light. Lineage and Steven Kent Winery’s The Premier are our two flagship wines. My personal mission, when it is all said and done, is to consistenly produce two wines that can be favorably compared to any great wine produced in the world. I want to make iconic wines…wines with a history, a pedigree, and an acknowledged reputation for greatness…all qualities that will take a career to achieve. Consequently, in tastings such as this, it is crucial that experts see our wines as belonging in a group that has already achieved some of the benchmarks that we are working to accomplish.

Equally as importantly, our winemaking team (Tom Stutz and I) would get a chance to taste our wines within a larger group that contained more wines that weren’t ours than that were.

There is a tendency for winemakers to gain a house palate. We work with our wines for a number of years before they are released, tasting them many times as they are elevated from grape to bottle. It is easy to fall into a trap where you ascribe too much “brilliance” to your own effort and don’t see the weaknesses in the wines because you don’t compare them often enough to a benchmark set in a way that hides what you think you know. Tim Gaiser, Steve Morey, Bob Bath, Peter Marks, Christie Dufaul – our MSs – not only have a great deal of tasting experience, but they also know how wine is made. So, many of the comments about the wines had winemaking techniques, decisions, and craft as an inherent part…again, a very helpful exercise for us.

It is important that we compare our wines against a very high standard often, and -from a business standpoint- it is important that we do well. Gratifyingly, we did very well. These kinds of results breed confidence and give us a sense that our own intuition about the Livermore Valley’s ability to grow world-class fruit has a semblance of reality behind it.